Tuesday ReadsPosted: September 17, 2019
For months now, we’ve been talking about the society-wide depression and anxiety that Trump’s “presidency” has caused. Speaking for myself, I managed to stay glued to the news for quite a long time, but lately I’ve tried to protect myself by stepping back as much as possible and finding ways to nourish my psyche in order to avoid falling into despair over what is happening to this country.
I’ve still paid close attention to the damage Trump is doing, and I’ve found that I can do that without watching cable TV constantly and reading every horrific article I encounter. I’m still experiencing “Trump depression” though and I know I’m not alone.
In light of that, I want to begin this post by highlighting this helpful article by Paul Rosenberg at Salon: The Trump depression (and we don’t mean the economy): Key symptom of autocratic regimes. It’s quite long, but I hope you’ll go read the entire thing. Some excerpts:
Reviewing “Trump’s Wacky, Angry, and Extreme August” on Twitter, the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser said the experience “was exhausting, a dark journey to a nasty and contentious place.” But that’s hardly news: it’s a place we live in every day. We try to turn the volume down and ignore it, and that may work for a while. But it won’t last. It can’t. It’s getting worse, and we can all see where we’re headed.
We know who Donald Trump admires, who he wants to be like — “president for life” as he keeps on telling us — and the countries they rule. Even as Trump insulted Americans and allies with abandon, Glasser noted, he found time to praise North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
America is nowhere near as bad as Brazil or China, much less North Korea. But our democracy is eroding significantly. Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) tracks hundreds of attributes of democracy for 202 countries, spanning more than two centuries. Its 2019 report found that “24 countries are now severely affected by what is established as a ‘third wave of autocratization,'” an erosion of democratic rights “that has slowly gained momentum since the mid 1990s. … Among them are populous countries such as Brazil, India and the United States.”
If Trump has his way — demolishing all restraints on his power — things will only get much worse, with the journey Glasser took as a tour book guide of what’s to come. And people are feeling it in their bones.
I think we all acknowledge at this point that Trump wants to be a dictator in the mold of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. He has managed to get rid of the so-called “adults in the room” and surround himself with sycophants, yes men, and acting cabinet members whose jobs are subject to his whims. On the “Trump depression,” Rosenberg quotes “physician and scholar” Frederick Burkle.
“In America under Trump there is a population-based depression taking hold. It is a very subtle, smoldering, pervasive and serious condition that people in autocratic countries chronically live with,” physician and scholar Frederick “Skip” Burkle told me in a recent interview. Burkle has any number of academic credentials: He was founding director of the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Hawaii, and currently serves in advisory or research capacities at the Harvard School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutes, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and elsewhere.
It was Burkle who first described Trump as a schoolyard bully to me, as I described in July. His own first childhood encounter with a bully taught him that such people were driven by “not just the violence and intimidation, but the narcissist’s hallmark sense of impunity, backed up by effortless deceit, blame-shifting, and manipulation,” as I expressed it.
“When I did see young adults with sociopathy and narcissism, the depression among their caretaker parents was pervasive,” Burkle told me in our recent conversation. “They control the agenda and suck all the oxygen out of the room every day. They also sap all the energy out of their caretaker parents and staff later in life, and are quick to blame others for the consequences.” It’s not accidental, he observed, that Trump underlings like Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn are the ones convicted of crimes.
Meanwhile, the wider public, overwhelmed by the Trumpian chaos, becomes depressed, disoriented and exhausted, as Burkle puts it.
Rosenberg cites several other experts, including Elizabeth Mika who wrote a chapter in the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.
When I reached out to Mika…, she cited two concepts as particularly important for “understanding our sociopolitical situation” — both what’s driving the depression Burkle speaks of, and what points toward the way out.
“The first one is pathocracy,” Mika said. “which is the rule of pathological characters — specifically, people with entirely absent or severely compromised conscience — who, because of their character defect, are devoted pretty much exclusively to the pursuit of power by any means possible.”
Pathocracies spread into general populace like cancer, taking over and destroying organs of social and political life, along with individual human beings. People living under pathocracies become demoralized and despondent. Depression and despair, along with various social pathologies, are predictable consequences of being forced to adjust to immoral and inhumane socio-political systems based on lies and exploitation.
Yet “just as pathocracy spreads in a populace, so does a healthy resistance to it,” she explained.
Awakening to the reality of pathocracy, mobilizing against it and dismantling it, is a process of positive disintegration — the second concept I mentioned at the start — during which individuals come to realize the importance of higher values, and start implementing them, little by little, in their daily lives.
The way out is not a return to normalcy, since as Mika noted above, “The tyrant shows up in a society that is already weakened by disorder.”
I know I’ve quoted a lot, but there’s much more to read at the link. I hope you’ll check it out.
I don’t know why this story on Russian spying at Yahoo News isn’t getting more attention: Exclusive: Russia carried out a ‘stunning’ breach of FBI communications system, escalating the spy game on U.S. soil, by Zach Dorfman, Jenna McLaughlin and Sean D. Naylor.
On Dec. 29, 2016, the Obama administration announced that it was giving nearly three dozen Russian diplomats just 72 hours to leave the United States and was seizing two rural East Coast estates owned by the Russian government. As the Russians burned papers and scrambled to pack their bags, the Kremlin protested the treatment of its diplomats, and denied that those compounds — sometimes known as the “dachas” — were anything more than vacation spots for their personnel.
The Obama administration’s public rationale for the expulsions and closures — the harshest U.S. diplomatic reprisals taken against Russia in several decades — was to retaliate for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But there was another critical, and secret, reason why those locations and diplomats were targeted.
Both compounds, and at least some of the expelled diplomats, played key roles in a brazen Russian counterintelligence operation that stretched from the Bay Area to the heart of the nation’s capital, according to former U.S. officials. The operation, which targeted FBI communications, hampered the bureau’s ability to track Russian spies on U.S. soil at a time of increasing tension with Moscow, forced the FBI and CIA to cease contact with some of their Russian assets, and prompted tighter security procedures at key U.S. national security facilities in the Washington area and elsewhere, according to former U.S. officials. It even raised concerns among some U.S. officials about a Russian mole within the U.S. intelligence community.
It appears that Russian interference in our elections was only the tip of the iceberg.
“It was a very broad effort to try and penetrate our most sensitive operations,” said a former senior CIA official.
American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet. Senior FBI and CIA officials briefed congressional leaders on these issues as part of a wide-ranging examination on Capitol Hill of U.S. counterintelligence vulnerabilities.
These compromises, the full gravity of which became clear to U.S. officials in 2012, gave Russian spies in American cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco key insights into the location of undercover FBI surveillance teams, and likely the actual substance of FBI communications, according to former officials. They provided the Russians opportunities to potentially shake off FBI surveillance and communicate with sensitive human sources, check on remote recording devices and even gather intelligence on their FBI pursuers, the former officials said.
“When we found out about this, the light bulb went on — that this could be why we haven’t seen [certain types of] activity” from known Russian spies in the United States, said a former senior intelligence official.
The compromise of FBI systems occurred not long after the White House’s 2010 decision to arrest and expose a group of “illegals” – Russian operatives embedded in American society under deep non-official cover – and reflected a resurgence of Russian espionage. Just a few months after the illegals pleaded guilty in July 2010, the FBI opened a new investigation into a group of New York-based undercover Russian intelligence officers. These Russian spies, the FBI discovered, were attempting to recruit a ring of U.S. assets — including Carter Page, an American businessman who would later act as an unpaid foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Once again, I’ve quoted a great deal, but it’s a very long piece that is both interesting and alarming.
This next story is horrific, and once again it began under Obama. The Washington Post: U.S. officials knew bomb-sniffing dogs were dying from neglect in Jordan. They sent more.
The State Department sent dozens of highly skilled explosive-detection dogs to Jordan, even after the agency assessed a high degree of mistreatment and failure to care for the animals in 2016, according to an inspector general report concluded last week. It ultimately led to their early deaths and crushed their spirits so brutally that the dogs “lost the will to work,” the report says.
At least 10 dogs provided to Jordan died of “various medical problems” out of at least 100 canines sent there between 2008 and 2016, the report found, and surviving dogs were starved in kennels smeared with feces and dirt. Dogs were overworked in the desert, suffered hip dysplasia and other conditions. Engorged ticks ringed their ears.
Zoe, [a] Belgian Malinois, died of heat stroke on the Syrian border in 2017, less than a year after her arrival. Veterinarians told investigators that such deaths are not accidental and pointed to negligence on the part of Jordanian handlers.
The report reveals an alarming and fast collapse of dogs that arrived healthy and strong in Jordan, only to be fighting for their lives in a matter of months….
Athena, a 2-year old Belgian Malinois, was found starved in Jordan by U.S. dog handling officials and evacuated to the United States for recovery.
Photos in Jordan show Athena’s malnourished body. Feces covered her kennel floor, her water bowl bone-dry. The State Department had two full-time dog handling mentors on the ground “during the entire time” Athena was in Jordan, the report found, but her condition did not set off any alarms until a site visit in April 2018.
By then, the State Department knew for two years — after an April 2016 site visit — that Jordan was unable to adequately care for and protect dogs carrying out dirty, hot and dangerous work to find explosives in violent places like the Syrian border.
Yet at least 60 dogs arrived in six waves through 2018 after the assessment, the report found
As the Brits say, bloody hell. This is intolerable!
More reads, links only.
Vanity Fair: “They Played It Up Pretty Big”: Turmoil Engulfs The Times Over The Kavanaugh Debacle.
Mimi Rocah at USA Today: Confirmed: Powerful men ignored women in short-circuited Brett Kavanaugh investigation.
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: The New Kavanaugh Reporting Shows How Far Trump’s Control Goes.
The Washington Post: Pentagon urges restraint after strikes on Saudi oil facilities.
Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump has dug himself into a hole with Iran.
Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “Trump is Annoyed Pence Hasn’t Been Defending Him More”: Is Trump’s Long-Suffering V.P. in Danger of Getting Bounced?
So . . . what stories are you following today?